How Trends in Certification Attainment and Associated Earnings vary by Race, Ethnicity, and Education

The above map shows the attainment rate for each state by selected population. Scroll over your state to see each state’s exact attainment rate and earnings associated with a certification or license, with a certification only or neither a certification nor license. Click on your state or select it in the dropdown menu to see how its earnings and attainment compare across race and with the United States. Use the dropdown menu to select the level of education you are interested in viewing. Contact the LMI Institute to learn how you can embed this visualization on your site.[1]

This article is part of a series of reports on new estimates from the Labor Market Information Institute State Certification and Licenses Data Tables. Find previous blog posts in this series here.

Among the US population aged 25 and older, the percentage of the population with a certification but no license (“certification only”) is similar across all racial and ethnic groups, with a marginally higher rate for White and Asian persons than Black or Hispanic persons.

Persons with higher levels of education are more likely to have a certification only than less educated persons regardless of race and/or ethnicity. Roughly 1% of all persons with only a high school diploma have a certification only, compared to 2.5% of all persons with an Associate’s degree and 2.5% of all persons with a Bachelor’s degree as their highest level of education.

Variation in certification only attainment by race is slightly more apparent at the Advanced Degree level (Master’s and Above), the level of education with the highest certification only attainment rate across race and/or ethnicities. 3.7% of Black or African American persons with an advanced degree have a certification only, while only 2.8% of White and Hispanic or LatinX persons with similar education have a certification only.

Despite similar rates of certification only attainment across race and/or ethnicity, including when analyzed by level of education, certification only attainment is not associated with equal returns to earnings across race and/or ethnicity.

White Black or African-American Asian Hispanic or LatinX
With a Certification Only (No License) $959 $843 $1,154 $882
Neither a Certification nor License $808 $660 $848 $699


White workers with a certification only had $142 or 17.8% more in median weekly earnings than non-credentialed, similar workers. The median weekly earnings of Asian workers with a certification only were $306 or 36.1% greater than for workers with neither a certification nor license. Black or African American workers earned $183 (27.7%) and Hispanic or LatinX workers earned $183 (26.2%) more with a certification only than their peers with neither a certification nor license.

White Black or African-American Asian Hispanic or LatinX
No High School Diploma 9.8% 11.6% 9.1% 28.6%
HS Diploma/GED or Equivalent 28.4% 33.1% 18.3% 31.0%
Some College, No Degree 15.9% 19.2% 8.6% 13.9%
Associate’s Degree 10.5% 10.4% 6.7% 8.1%
Bachelor’s Degree 22.5% 16.4% 32.6% 12.9%
Advanced Degree 13.0% 9.3% 24.7% 5.6%


Education plays a critical role in understanding these apparent differences by race in the returns to earnings from certification attainment. More educated workers are more likely to earn more, and are more likely to have a certification, while less educated workers are more likely to see a larger return to earnings from certification attainment. Black and Hispanic workers are less likely to have a degree than White or Asian workers, and differences in education levels by race could explain why Black and Hispanic workers have increased returns to earnings with a certification, and lower overall earnings, than White workers. With the recent publication of a fifth year of CPS data on certifications and licenses, the LMI Institute is creating five-year CPS estimates that will allow users to better understand the relationship between race, level of education, and the returns of certification attainment to earnings.

State Certifications and Licenses data allows the user to analyze earnings data with and without a certification or license, or with a certification only (no license) by state. The LMI Institute suppressed all data with less than 30 observations from its analysis, severely limiting the number of states for which earnings data for workers with a certification only is available by race and level of education. It is important to note that these are only estimates and we have not tested the degree of correlation or statistical significance of the differences in certification attainment and wages. We hope these initial estimates will encourage further research.

The LMI Institute recently presented a webinar on “How LMI Institute State Certifications and Licenses Data Informs State-Level Research” to its members as part of the LMI Workforce Roundtable Series. This data can drive research into sub-population attainment of certifications and licenses and high-value credentials required for occupations or that substantially increase earnings. Watch this presentation to learn more about how your state can benefit from increase understanding of certification and license attainment and their associated earnings! See the Webinar HERE.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Current Population Survey collects information on the prevalence of certifications and licenses in the United States, published annually. Using this data, the Labor Market Information (LMI) Institute produced state-level estimates on the prevalence of certifications and licenses, including tables comparing certification and licensure by educational attainment across occupations, age, race and ethnicity, and gender.

[1] All data with less than 30 observations has been suppressed from the data. Observations for earnings are generally lower than for attainment and are generally lowest at lower levels of education.